Making Places

by Anna Blanch on December 12, 2011

Home goannatree anna blanchMy colleague and friend, Jenn Craft (also a contributor to Transpositions) gave a paper last week, shortly before she and her husband left to return to their home in Georgia, about place and place-making and particularly a theology of these things. It was an incredibly thought-provoking  paper. Most of all, given that she was talking about sustained relationships to places and their value in connection with taking our responsibilities to creation seriously and being connected to community and rooted in place, it was a challenging message to a room full of people ‘out of place’ – most of us being a long way from the places we would call ‘home.’ It’s almost natural for a feeling of defensiveness to rise within you when you hear that there’s something more valuable about being ‘in place,’ a place where you are rooted in community, and in time, when you are not. It’s almost inevitable that you want to justify what you have as being enough.

I’ve talked alot about ‘making home.’ And it is true that I can and I have made home in the cottage by the sea, but i’ve felt that i’m still in the transient immigrant phase. There’s a threshold  into community which some people are able to cross while others never do.

It’s not a matter of will. It just is.

I think the struggle in hearing of the intrinsic value of ‘staying put’ of having a sustained relationship to place, when you’re desperately clinging to making a home in the place you’re in, is that it may feel like a transient life is being weighed and measured and found wanting. And it is, to an extent. But the point of extolling the value of investing in place, in heritage, in community, is about the microcosm of life being beautiful. It is about home and place as elements of our identities and within which we also know who we are. It occurs to me that to have a ‘place’ in the world is to know yourself. To know where God has placed you to live, to create, to make, to love, and to be loved. It is about flourishing and growing and being pruned and burned back. It is about experiencing the full cycle of seasons in a place, not just the four seasons, but the rhythms of the environment, the community, the people. It is as much about spring and winter as it is about 20 year droughts and watching children enter kindergarten and then seeing those same children graduate highschool.

These are often the kinds of  experiences that someone (me) who grew up in a small town might yearn to escape from; a yearning to find difference and spontaneity. Yet, those rhythms are deeply buried in my soul.

I can remake place. I can make ‘home’ – but in so many ways I am made and remade by ‘place’ and by ‘home.’

For me the yearning for Australia is and remains. In particular, New South Wales. I have been happy to travel, to live away for 4.5 years. To make ‘home’ in Texas and in Scotland, and to know that both Texas and Scotland have changed me and changed my understanding of the world and its people. These places have shaped me, molded me, uplifted me, and at times, wounded me. But, deep within my heart, the soil of my homeland has remained the soil upon which my whole being feels satiated. The sun warm upon my face. The orange glow of the sunrise and sunsets. The crisp blueness of the autumn morning breeze, the tickling warmth peppered with that crispness in the spring time air. The smell of a coming rain shower. The sound of a cacophony of cockatoos and galahs early in the morning. The easiness of the people. my people. their humour, their work ethos. Their no-nonsense way of going about things.

I’ve taken seriously the words of Jesus that:

19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”  20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8: 19-21)

At the same time I’ve read the letters to the churches that make up most of the epistles which speak of specific concerns in particular places. The church and the kingdom are to be worked out in places. Jesus is not commanding us to abandon place, community or home entirely. He’s asking us not to hold on to these more tightly than we focus our eyes and hearts on him. He’s asking us to be willing to let them go, no matter how difficult that may be, and at the drop of the hat too. He’s not saying that won’t be difficult or painful, or that you’re somehow less than if giving up place and relationships is a struggle. He is asking us to be willing.

always willing.

to go and be.

to stay and be.

to be.

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